How to Blog: 2. How do I start Blogging?

How to Blog Series

« 1. Blog Basics | 2. Start blogging | 3. Writing good posts »

Typically, people get into blogging by reading blogs. Most blog readers are not bloggers, they just enjoy visiting and reading/listening/viewing content that others create. And this is great: blogs need readers. Some people, after lurking for while, start contributing to the discussion by writing comments to other people’s posts. This is even better: blogging requires participation. Some blogs becomes like coffee shops: nice places to visit and hang out, where one can listen to stories and chat with friends.

But best of all is having your own blog, because you have the chance to create something that is yours, on which you have complete creative control, and at the same time is public. This is the true power and beauty of blogging: a blog is something you create and take care of, like a garden, and other people from all over the world can visit and enjoy.

If you have decided that you are ready to start your own blog, get ready to jump. You’ll find that start blogging has never been easier.

Easy and free blog solutions for beginners (but you can keep your blog there forever)

The easiest way to start a blog is to sign up for one of the several free sites that offer a blog service. Your upfront committment is minimum, and if blogging doesn’t work for you, you have lost no money and very little time. For example, you won’t have to buy a domain name, pay a website host, and set up the blog software for your site. You’ll just have to enter username and password, choose a name for your blog, select a template, and start blogging.

My first blog was at Blogger.com, the blogging site now owned by Google (also known as blogspot, because blogs hosted there have addresses such as Yourblog.blogspot.com). Starting a blog on Blogger.com is easy and you can do pretty much all you need with very little learning. Blogger.com has grown to be a fairly comprehensive blog platform with features such as Adsense ads and tools against comment spam.

Because what is important is the content, many simple blogs on Blogger.com are as cool as the ones created with more sophisticated tools. The value of a blog is in what is in it and who visits it, not how complicated it is to set up the site and how many sleepless night you spent creating a design. Many popular and historical blogs are hosted on Blogger. For example, Post Secrets is a blogspot blog that made it into the Technorati top 100.

But, but, but… What if I want a fancy customized theme, and all the cool plugins that come with WordPress, and my own domain name, and…

OK, stop there. This can be the start of the dangerous blogger procrastination disease: waiting until everything is the way you want it, all the stars are aligned, and all the signs auspicious. In other world: waiting forever.

A blog is a work in progress. You will change the appearance of your site many times. Your style will change, your interests will change, your categories will change, the title of your blog will change. People who create blog platforms know this and have made sure that no matter where you start you won’t get stuck there. You can start a blog anywhere you want and when you are ready to move to something different you can import your posts on a different platform. So, don’t worry: start a blog the easy way, get in the habit of creating posts, and see how it feels before you spend time and money to creat the “perfect blog.”

If Blogger doesn’t work for you, there are several other sites that offer free blogging service. For example, you may want to create your blog on LiveJournal, MySpace.com, or MSN Spaces if all of your friends are there. Wikipedia maintains a list of free blog services: look under the Developer Hosted header in the Blog Software entry.

“What if my content is pictures, video or audio files?” This is a topic for another post, but in the meanwhile you can check out Wikipedia to learn more about podcasting and video-blogging. I also suggest to check out my friend Derek Miller’s site, Pen Machine, which has a lot of wonderful links and resources for podcasting and audio recording.

I get “start simple,” but what about alternatives?

If you don’t mind paying something, you can get proprietary blogging software, like TypePad and MobileType, developed by SixApart (the same company that owns LiveJournal). Typepad–appropriate for individuals–costs between $50 to $150 a year. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial, but you are required to provide your credit card number and you will be charged if you don’t cancel your service within 30 days.

I’ve never used TypePad or MobileType (the business version of the software), so I cannot say if it’s worth the price. What I’ve read around goes from worship (“this is the best piece of software ever created”) to “there are much better alteratives.” Some people complain for the lack of flexibility and customization. So, I am afraid you’ll have to check it out for yourself.

The other alternative is to get software that you can install on your hosted site. One of the most popular is WordPress, a free open source blogging platform. The advantage of Open Sources is that many people contribute to the coding, so WordPress is in continuous development and features a variety of plugins that add cool functionality to blogs. WordPress has also a great variety of themes (files that you can download to your WordPress site an determine the appearance and structure of the blog) that are provided for free and can be tweaked to create your own unique blog.

After trying a few WordPress blog themes, I settled for Denis De Bernardy’s Semiologic Theme, a basic content management system that offers flexibility and stability. (Disclosure: I have contributed one of the skin of the Semiologic Theme, which is also the base for my own site design). The Semiologic Theme allows for a certain flexibility and customization by using the WordPress admin screens, meaning that you won’t have to change any of the PHP and CSS files directly to get some basic customization.

Even getting a host, a domain, and installing a blog software is not really hard, especially if you are OK with the basic installation. Tweaks and customizations are a little bit harder, but can be done also if you are not scared to waste some time messing up with code. I am not a developer and I know nothing about php code, but I’ve been able to put together my site by customizinghtml and style sheets.

Resources

[If you find helpful blogging resources, drop me a line and I will include them in these posts]

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How to Blog Series

« 1. Blog Basics | 2. Start blogging | 3. Writing good posts »

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